This year's Dance Umbrella could not have kicked off in a better way!' someone exclaimed enthusiastically at the end of the Siobhan Davies Dance Company's double bill last week. I could not agree more.
Within the often undeservedly criticised British contemporary dance scene, Davies can be seen as one of the few dance-mak- ers who have managed to break free from the constraints of pre-existing formulae, often imported from abroad. She has developed a distinctive choreographic style and a distinctive dance technique — though complementary, the two are not necessarily the same. In other words, Davies's choreography is the tangible proof that, in spite of what some may claim, there is an independent, well-defined British new dance, in the same way as there are French, Dutch, German, Italian and Amer- ican ones — to mention some of today's most significant new choreographic schools.
Given their particular nature, Davies's works cannot easily be compared with those by other 'British choreographers in the vain hope of finding stylistic and tech- nical common denominators. Davies's uniqueness stems mainly from a persistent and wide-angled exploration of movement possibilities that leads, in turn, to an equal- ly constant renewal of her artistic formulae. Indeed, there are identifiable constant components, both technical and choreo- graphic, across her oeuvre. Even when these elements reoccur in more than one work, they never appear to be direct quota- tions, as is often the case with the so-called Signature features. This continuous rethinking of possible solutions is what pre- vents any artistic or stylistic regurgitation in Davies's choreography, always conferring on those recurring constants a new and original structural function as well as a totally different quality. This is particularly evident when two or more of her works from different periods are performed with- in the context of the same evening, as hap- pened with the Dance Umbrella programme.
Originally created for Rambert Dance Company, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (1992) is considered by dance experts and scholars alike as one of the best examples, if not a classic of the new British dance. The work stands out mainly for the power- ful and choreographically innovative way that an old theatrical expedient — man's movements conveying those of a machine — has been turned into a theatrically pow- erful means of expression. The mechanical solutions, dictated by the sound of a loom interacting with Frederic Rzeswski score, provide the audience with a tantalising view of the characters portrayed on stage. It is not difficult to recognise ourselves, trapped in everyday routine and entangled in a complex web of relationships.
Structural solutions, such as the alterna- tion of choral scenes and more intimate moments, as well as technical features such as a particular language of gesture that is expressive but neither literal nor narrative, underscore Davies's latest creation, Eight Eight. The dramatic crescendo of Winns- boro Cotton Mill Blues is contrasted here by a rarefied, less dense and, at moments, more lyrical atmosphere. In this new work, the exploration of both the dance medium and the performers' individual response to it results in an overwhelming choreograph- ic kaleidoscope that reveals the apparently barrier-free quality of Davies's inventive- ness. Such a multifaceted palette of move- ments — referred to in the programme note as an intricate yet legible language — allows a well-calibrated juxtaposition of dif- fering images that span from the dramati- cally powerful to the subtly humorous. Indeed, each image prompts diverse reac- tions among viewers. It is not surprising, therefore, that some might prefer the intensity of the various duets, like I did, While others had eyes only for the choral moments.
Needless to say, the depth of the piece would have never come across had it not been danced superbly by each member of the company. What I particularly like about Davies's dancers, apart from their superb technical qualities, is the way they manage to absorb and to render the complex techni- cal and psychological nuances of the chore- ographic text, while maintaining constantly their artistic individuality. The company will soon be on tour; do not miss it.